In reality… Harper Lee has been my number one author love of all time. Even after all the shiz going down about her second novel, ‘Go Set a Watchman’. This Author Love will be set up in two separate, but equal parts.
Part 1: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
Sometimes, even for people who write all the time, it is hard to find the correct words to describe how something made you feel. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is that something for me.
‘TKAM’ was a book forced upon me by the California education system. Looking back, I believe a lot of books they force upon young people are unappreciated pieces of art. I say ‘unappreciated’ because most teenagers lack the real life experience to fully understand the significance of the adult life story. The books were, for the most part, enjoyable, but more so when you can truly understand what “That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful fool,” actually means in our society.
That being said…. after reading the first chapter of ‘TKAM’ I was instantly awed. I understood her language. I understood, and could relate to Scout Finch and her childhood antics. I was swept away by the writing style that could pull you into Maycomb, Alabama. Her message was clear through the intricate story-telling of a child, giving me a mindset of change and realization. And Atticus…Atticus Finch was the epitome of was it is to be a perfect father and a perfect man. As close to perfect as anyone could get, at the very least. He was the same man inside the house as he was outside, he told his children the absolute truth to their questions, and he did what he considered right. The perfect fictional character laid out.
It’s difficult for me to write how I felt back then, and how I felt re-reading it last month. As I re-read it, some of the lines brought me to literal tears. It’s such an incredibly moving story. The only way I can think of to describe my feels are to compare it to giving birth. I’ve never given birth, or raised a child… but what I mean by that comparison is you open up a book and bring it to life. As you watch it grow, you feel so many different emotions along the way, and you still love it unconditionally at the end.
After finishing the book for the first time, there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to be an author. Even if only one person read my book and felt a tenth of what I felt about ‘TKAM’, then I could die a happy person.
Part 2: ‘Go Set a Watchman’
Despite all the controversy surrounding the sequel– the random find of the manuscript, her lawyer taking advantage of her old age– I was still very excited about ‘GSAW’.
What I can say about it is this… It was very obviously written by Harper Lee, so all you Truman nay-Sayers can go jump off a cliff. It was a joy to get back into the world of Maycomb County. Lastly, it cannot be a sequel to ‘TKAM’.
I am one of the rare people who view ‘GSAW’ as a completely separate book, not a sequel. Same characters, same town, but somehow in a parallel universe. I believe that is why I have a less harsh opinion about the book. It did not ruin, in any way, Atticus Finch, because he wasn’t the same person. He couldn’t be. The details relating to events from the first book weren’t correct, because in this world they happened differently. I couldn’t see it as an extension of the same story because it simply wasn’t.
Scout has finally had the blindfold removed from her nostalgic view of Maycomb, and its citizens; all family and friends. The huge change rocks her so hard, she feels it physically, unable to handle the real truth of racism in the south. Especially in her hometown.
I think people are afraid to say they enjoyed the book. The way racism is presented in the book is very true to the time it was written. I think it is very narrow minded to say “I don’t like racism, and won’t accept Atticus as a racist man, so I won’t read/enjoy it.” Which is the gist of about 70% of the articles I’ve read. If you cut yourself off to things you don’t agree with, then you will miss out on some beautiful pieces of literature. No one automatically thinks you are a pedophile if you like ‘Lolita’.
I feel the same way Jean Louise (Scout) feels about racism: it shocks and disgusts me. She feels she is set apart from the rest of the town because she was born color blind, raised by a white man and a black woman. I still enjoyed the book.
In no way was it a perfect book, but the flashbacks of childhood brought me back to that world I loved so much. The raw emotion when she decides to kill herself, the older brother who was always there until he wasn’t, the humility of being a teenager. Then, an adult facing the harsh truth, but ultimately finding her voice.
There are two big things that did turn me off, and those are the last two chapters. I never thought Jean Louise would truly turn away from Atticus, racist or not. Yet, I didn’t think she would give in so easily as to just accept him as an oppressor with a “Gee-whiz, dad. My bad.”
‘GSAW’ won’t be the most amazing book you’ve ever read, but it most certainly is not the worst either. It is worth the read if you can separate the two books in your mind.
I have yet to find a author who can take the number one spot from Harper Lee in my collection. She remains a golden idol to look up to in my mind. Her work helped me realize mine, and even though I found my writing voice is very different from her own, I still hope someday I can have the same affect. Even if it is only on one person. (Who will probably be my mother. :D)